Japan seeks to expand Covid-19 restrictions to Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa

Tokyo recorded more than 500 infections for the second straight day on Thursday.
Tokyo recorded more than 500 infections for the second straight day on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan is set to reimpose restrictions in Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa aimed at reining in a rapid spread of the coronavirus in those areas, three weeks after ending a state of emergency in the capital.

Japan's Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told an advisory panel Friday the government was seeking to introduce the measures from April 12 until May 11 in Tokyo and May 5 in Kyoto and Okinawa. Three other areas, Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi, are already under restrictions. The formal decision is set to come later in the day, Kyodo News reported.

The new measures will be similar to those applied under the emergency, with bars and restaurants being instructed to close by 8pm, and those that fail to comply facing potential fines. Incentives will be provided for eateries to follow virus guidelines, such as maintaining sufficient space between tables.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed last month to prevent the need for a new state of emergency, but has little left in his toolbox to control the latest surge. Vaccinations are proceeding at a slow pace, and are not set to kick into high gear until May.

"I have an extremely strong sense of crisis," Nishimura told the panel, noting the spread of virus variants that are more infectious and more likely to cause serious illness in younger people.

The move comes as the Olympic Torch Relay proceeds across the country, heralding the virus-delayed Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to start on July 23.

Tokyo recorded more than 500 infections for the second straight day on Thursday, and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was concerned the capital could go the way of Osaka, which is experiencing record numbers of infections.

Japan has so far suffered a far lower death toll than the US or most European countries, at fewer than 10,000 people, compared with about 127,000 in the UK, which has about half the population.